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Leading-edge tech and superb refinement and load-carrying capabilities ensure the Ford Transit remains the UK’s biggest seller

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This is the Mark VIII Ford Transit, the pinnacle of the light commercial vehicle world, one many other manufacturers including Renault, Vauxhall and Nissan have all tried to overcome. The 'two-tonne' van sits atop a range that also includes - in descending size - the Transit Custom, Transit Connect, and the Transit Courier.

Ford has timed the launch of its largest model perfectly: the commercial vehicle market has emerged from recession-led gloom and is growing at an impressive rate. The new van, says Ford, has what it takes to keep it at the top of the sales charts.

The 2.2-litre 153bhp diesel is claimed to average a reasonable 37.2mpg in LWB High Roof Transits

To put the Transit’s nameplate’s significance to Ford into context, only the Ford Fiesta and Ford Focus shift in greater numbers. Combine the sales figures for Transit Custom and Connect and you have the sixth biggest-selling nameplate. More than the BMW 3 Series, and in 2013, just 600 behind the Volkswagen Golf.

This latest version of the Transit has been designed and engineered in Ford’s Dunton engineering centre and its engines are built in Dagenham.

This version will be the first time a Transit has been sold in North America, where it replaces the iconic, but woefully inefficient E-series – which helps explain the Americanised styling of the new Transit. In total, it will sell in 118 markets across six continents.

Taking in van, chassis cab, bus variants, multiple wheelbases, roof heights, engine outputs and front-, rear-, and all-wheel-drive configurations and you’re left with a bewildering range of some 450 variants.

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The two-tonne panel vans and Chassis Cabs all use the same 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, in three power outputs, with a six-speed manual gearbox. The Transit Custom is available with a smaller capacity 2.0-litre oilburner in three different outputs. The Custom again comes in various sizes, lengths and configuration, but also offers for those tradesman looking for a bit more stand-out appeal the Transit Sport.

The smaller Connect and Courier engine range is predominantly dominated by 1.5-litre diesel units, however they can also be had with Ford's 99bhp 1.0-litre, three-cylinder Ecoboost engine too.

The panel van which we tested recorded a gross vehicle mass of up to 3.5 tonnes, and cargo capacity - up to 2.3 tonnes depending on model - has increased by up to 11 percent over the old model.

The largest variant, the Jumbo, has 15.1m3 of cargo space. In any event, the van sides are more vertical, the rear doors are larger to aid the loading and unloading of cargo by forklift.

Ford also claims the Transit has best-in-class cost of ownership, aided by a simplified design that makes it quicker and cheaper to replace key components. The time taken to service the rear brakes has been cut in half, meaning reduced bills for the operator, and less time off the road. Residual values are boosted by up to £2500 on some models over three years/60,000 miles.

Ford says the Transit is more car-like than any big Ford van before it, and it’s not wrong. The dash design will certainly be familiar to any drivers of Ford’s passenger car range: the instrumentation, steering wheel, audio controls and plenty of other switchgear is lifted straight out of its car range.

And just like the car range there are a wealth of trim levels to choose from with the entry-level Transit Courier available in three different levels, with each coming with DAB radio, USB connectivity, Bluetooth, a device dock, hill start assist, and trailer sway control. The Transit Connect also comes in three different attire, and all models come with the same entry-level equipment as the Courier but with the addition of a full size spare and a adjustable driver's seat.

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The Transit Custom also is available in three trims but the L1 H1 version is also available in Sport trim which equips with the Transit with partial leather seats, rear view camera, 18in alloy wheels and an aggressive bodykit, while the two-tonne Transit panel van comes in predominantly two trims.

Yet the cabin offers the hardwearing materials and clever storage spaces Transit drivers demand. Both passenger seats lift up for storing large items, while various cubbies in and above the dash are sized to house clipboards, tools, bottles and other frequently used paraphernalia. Charging points of both 12 and 230-volt varieties are fitted.

Perhaps its biggest claim to being car-like is in its refinement. The engine only makes itself heard at the top end of its capability and the cabin is free from wind and road noise. The ride is surprisingly smooth – our test cars were laden with 500kg in the back – and the steering, while not offering a great deal of feedback was at least consistent and reasonably precise.

There is, naturally, a high degree of body roll, but lean is progressive and handling is best described as safe and predictable. Even in its largest configurations, the Transit is easy to drive, thanks to excellent forward visibility and dual-unit door mirrors, which virtually eliminate blindspots. An optional rear-view camera that displays in the rear-view mirror is a useful accessory.

Perhaps the only slight black marks on the Transit's report card are the seats, which although surprisingly comfortable, could do with a little more lateral support for passengers.

We tested the 153bhp version of the 2.2-litre Duratorq TDCI and found it offered more than enough urge to allow the long-wheelbase model to pedal along at motorway pace.

A narrow powerband of just 700rpm means that gearchanges on steep inclines, or likely when cargo approaches the van’s limit, will need to be frequent. Fortunately, the dash-mounted gearlever is well placed, and although slightly notchy on our box-fresh test van, it’s easy to slot a gear home.

On the more important and pragmatic issue of load carrying, the Transit serves well. The rear doors open to 180 degrees, once an additional catch is operated, and a large rear step means it’s easy to jump in and out of. A large sliding door helps further, as does the full range of tie-down points and full ply-lining.

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Buyers looking for the most economical choice might want to check out the 123bhp Econetic version, which offers CO2 emissions as low as 177g/km and the promise of 44mpg. Indeed, those Econetic models are predicted to save the driver more than £2000 in fuel costs over four years/80,000 miles over similar-powered non-Econetic models.

Should Ford's claims of the lowest cost of ownership prove true, it’s hard to argue that another van would make more sense for the cost-conscious tradesman or fleet operator. Whether it’s the long-wheelbase, high-top model tested here is more down to the operator’s individual circumstances, of course.

That the Ford Transit is excellent to drive and superbly comfortable is the icing on a already-appealing cake.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Ford Transit First drives